Chess coaching - tips for parents by IM Nisha Mohota
IM Nisha Mohota is one of the strongest female chess players of India. Even after 30 years of actively playing chess, her love for the game is very much intact. To become a stronger player she has worked with many coaches. On the other hand, she herself has worked as a serious coach helping many young players improve their game. She has seen both the sides of the coin - as a student and as a coach. She is in an ideal position to give you the right guidance on what chess coaching really means. There are some do's and dont's when it comes to finding the most appropriate trainer for your child. After this article, as a chess parent, you will be better placed to wade through the muddy waters of finding the best chess trainer for your kid.
This article was initially published on Nisha's blog "Through the eyes of Nisha" and has been republished here with her permission
The purest form of love in this world is the love of parents for their children! The love is selfless, very deep and unconditional. Parents always give the best of the worlds to their children! Good values, good education, comfort, whatever possible to their capabilities. They send their kids to the best of schools, get the best possible personal tutor at home and try to give their kid everything which probably even they never got! Such is the love of parents!
When it comes to education, parents normally understand what type of teacher their kid is more comfortable with. However, when it comes to chess, most parents are lost! Chess is becoming extremely popular in India. It is being recognised as an intellectual sport, something which benefits a kid's mental growth. It is getting recognition and support from Government of India and from the private bodies so more and more parents look forward to make their kids a future chess champ! While some teach chess to their kids just like they do abacus or any other stuff to supplement the mental growth, others take to chess more seriously. Where to start and how to start is a big issue with parents right from the word go!
Let me clear some myths first. The popular belief is that chess is a very cheap game - just buy a chess set and get started! But the reality is so much different! Chess is one of the most expensive sports today. Yes, you do not need to spend on equipment but chess coaching is extremely expensive. The better your kid becomes, the more expensive the coaching! Also, you need to spend huge amount by way of travelling, hotel, food etc.
Taking those first steps
To start with it is always better if you have someone in the family to coach the kid or if you have a chess club nearby where you can take the kid. The real problems start once the kid starts showing some interest and progress and it is time for parents to look for personal coaches with individual attention! In my last 30 years' association with chess, I have been a successful player, a coach, a student and a lover of the game! I have heard the problems of parents in finding good coaches and many coaches have shared their problems related to huge expectations of parents from them!
Many parents themselves are not familiar with the game and always compare chess with studies and think if the kid knows that two and two make four, then he should be able to play good chess! What parents need to know is that chess is not Math! It's different! There's no formula for success in chess! There's no set portions like school - if you mug up 100 pages of a book, you do not become a great chess player! Chess is much more complicated, it requires knowledge, understanding, application. Sometimes you need to follow the rules and sometimes you need to break the rules! Sometimes castling is a good idea, sometimes keeping your king in the center is safer. One needs to sacrifice at times, at other times sacrifices are uncalled for! Attacking chess is better in certain positions whereas some positions demand solid chess. Chess is not easy and that is what makes it attractive, after all who wants to do easy things?
We will all appreciate that all kids are special and all kids are different! Some kids can pick up the game fast, whereas others take months to understand the basics. Chess is my family game! No one taught my father to play chess. He just saw others in the family playing chess days after days and learnt it himself just by observing them move the pieces! I am not sure I would have learnt chess like my father- just by observing! I had to be taught by him. He taught me chess when I was seven. So what I mean is we are all different and have different power of grasping different things! Still we are all special, isn't it?
Do not keep changing your coaches
I have seen parents trying some coach for some time. Initially they like the coach but soon they realise that their kid is not progressing the same way as other kids. They start thinking that perhaps the coach is not good, time for a change! When you decide on a coach, do a good research on how the coach is, whether he is suited to your kid, whether he has the time to give to your kid, whether you can afford his coaching for a long time. Once you are satisfied that he is the coach your kid wants, give the coach time. No coach is going to do magic to your kid in one day! The coach should be dedicated and should understand what your child needs. A good coach will get to the level of your child and make the kid love the game and enjoy the game. It might take different amount of time for different kids. Basically the first important advice - do not change coaches after every interval. Give the coach time to work with the kid. Results take time. Success comes after years of hard work!
Let me give you a small example from my life. I started playing chess in 1988. I was a child prodigy at that time, very talented according to everyone! In my first Nationals (Under 10 girls) in 1989, I was second! After that every year I was the favorite to win the age group nationals but kept coming second and third always! Then in 1993, I surprised everyone by winning National Under-14 girls as well as the National Under- 18 girls within a month! Do you think that I suddenly became a great player in 1993? No. I had been improving over the years, just that the results were not coming and once it started coming, I was unstoppable! Years of hard work was finally paying off! This brings me to another point. Sometimes your kid is working with a coach for one year or two years and results don't come. Suddenly you shift coach and in a month the result starts coming and you think wow, this coach is great! Do you think the new coach did magic in a month? Most unlikely. Of course the new coach could have added new perspective, but you need to understand that the other coach's efforts are now bearing fruits! So basically have the faith in your coach, give him time and then decide.
Do not give homework to the coaches!
One common problem which coaches face is that parents start giving homework to the coaches! "Sir, I am sending you all the games of my kid. Please analyse them!" Are you really giving homework to the coaches to be done for free? If your kid is a regular student, say he avails 10 hours of class and then say you give the homework of an hour to the teacher (!!), that is still understandable. But many parents want one hour class and one hour homework to be done by the teacher...is it really fair? Most of the coaches are professional teachers. When your kid is not taking class, the coach is working with some other kid, you can't expect them to do loads of homework for you. Ok, sometimes it is possible, but expecting that always lead to friction.
One common problem which coaches find is mothers telling "I know my child!". Yes a mother understands a child, undoubtedly, but sometimes our love makes us blind! I recently saw an English movie named "Searching" where at the start a father says "I know my daughter" and towards the middle says "I did not know her!" It's very common, specially for all mothers (who clearly love their kids and know that no one in the world can love the kid to that extent) to say "I know my child. He can do this. He cannot do this." You might be wrong sometimes. You know your child but the coach knows the game. Sometimes, you have to give all powers to the coach and see- maybe he can do magic, maybe he can make your kid do things which you never imagined!
Don't be an overprotective parent
Everyone loves to see Shahrukh Khan scolding the girls to take out the best in them and then making them champions in the movie Chak de India! "Wow, what a coach, he knows how to extract the best from the players!" But a coach scolding your kid for a minute is completely unacceptable! "How dare he scold MY kid?" I met a guardian once and asked her how the coach is and she spoke wonderful words for the coach. In a couple of months she had changed the coach. The reason - the coach scolded the kid one day which demoralised the kid for life! Instead of pointing a finger at the coach, wouldn't it be better to explain to the kid why the coach was angry for one day in one year? Do you remember the days when your little baby tried to walk for the first time? He tried but he fell and you laughed at it and were happy he is trying. Due to continuous trying the baby finally succeeds one day to actually take the first step forward in this world! When the kid is trying to walk, you are happy to allow him to try and fall, why do most of you become over protective when the kid is trying and falling at a later stage in life? Allow the kid to fall and then get back to his feet, only then big steps can be taken! When the kid will finally succeed, no one will be as happy as you are! Maybe when the coach scolded the kid, he wanted that the kid should fall once so that he learns to stand forever! So basically let the coaches do their work without trying to be an overprotective parent!
Coach is also a human
I get different queries from parents. One parent called me up and said "I want a very good coach who will not have a life of his own for my two kids. Basically his life will revolve around the kids, and only when the kids don't need him, he can do what he wants!" They wanted an IM or GM level coach for kids who were talented beginners, and they wanted a coach to be like a slave! It is difficult what to tell such parents! A dedicated coach is understandable but "no life of his own" at an IM/GM level? Or for that matter any human?
A guardian once came to my house. They wanted me to coach a beginner kid. I told them that I will not be able to coach the kid but I offered someone very reliable and dedicated. "We haven't heard the name!" I wanted to ask them how many names in the chess world do they know! Parents are ready to give their kids to me but are not ready to give their kids to the person I am recommending! If you do not have faith in me, why did you come to me in the first place, came the thought from within but I kept quiet! This is an internet age. Anything you want to know about a person, you can google it out, specially things like achievements of a person in his profession or even social life. Don't be lazy, do some homework on your probable coach!
Another guardian caught me in some tournament and was pestering me to coach his kid. I told him that I have come out with a ChessBase DVD (Strengthen your chess foundation) which is around Rs.1100/- in India and will give 6 hours of training. Maybe the kid should first see it, they can see whether they like my ways and then approach me again! "Ok, that my kid cannot sit and see, but will you coach my kid?" What should I answer such parents?
Should my coach be titled player or not?
One big problem which parents face while looking for coaches is to go with big names or not? This will depend on your child and also on your affordability. During my childhood, there was no concept of a 24x7 coach sitting and observing what I am doing. My dad was my main coach. Before starting for office he would give me task - do this book- and would go. After he returned, I would tell him how many hours I did and exact pages which I covered. I did not have to be forced. I was okay to see chess alone. In fact, if you ask me, today I am more lazy to work alone than I was at that time! Today I prefer company to work on chess with! So what I mean is your child could be what I was in my younger days or could be like what I am today. If your child needs a full time coach, then you cannot expect a coach who has a 100 students to be the perfect one for you. If you hire such a coach, then it will be a mismatch and will lead to differences. On the other hand, if your child is very disciplined and all he needs is guidance and rest can manage on his own, then definitely the big names will be the perfect one for him. Also, many coaches work silently without being named! I was recently discussing this coaching issue with a friend of mine who is a GM. He said chess is perhaps the only sport in which the players do not actually disclose their real coach's name! People tell the name of one coach whereas secretly they are working with someone else! So while choosing coaches, use your intelligence and intuition, just like you do when deciding to make someone your friend or not!
Most parents complain that the coaches do not give time and most coaches complain that the kids never have doubts during class time when it is chargeable but all doubts come up over phone when the coaches are probably busy with other stuff! It is very important to hire a coach whom you can afford, instead of trying to extract more from a coach whom you cannot afford. How do you feel when your office boss wants you to work overtime? Once is understandable but if it recurs, you definitely don't put in your 100% to work, do you?
Invest in chess
Many parents complain. We have spent 2 lakhs on his chess and still no results! Have you ever kept track of the school expenses of the kid in his entire school life? He starts earning only after you have spent lacs and lacs of rupees in his entire school and college life. You never complain about it. Say you spend huge money on tuitions on History and later in his life your kid may even forget the H of History. Do you complain why you invested in the history teacher? You just think that it just helped in the school grades and probably the knowledge of History subconsciously may help the kid somewhere in life. Then why do you treat chess like a business? I invested so much, I should get immediate returns! When you are investing in chess, think that you are investing in your kid's brain, for its development. You may not be able to understand how it is helping the kid but probably your kid has become more focused, concentrates more, sits in one place more than earlier, probably he calculates his Math better than earlier or maybe his imagination has developed! The benefit of chess is not restricted to chess results alone. I once asked my good friend and former World Junior Girls Champion, WGM Soumya Swaminathan as to how she was managing to spend huge amount on her foreign trips without feeling bad about losing so much money? Her answer was an eye-opener for me! She told me "when a person studies to become a doctor, an engineer or an MBA, he too has to spend huge amount, isn't it? Similarly I am also making an investment for my chess future, for my betterment in chess!" I was inspired by Soumya! Since then I have made a lot of foreign trips, trying to play in strong tournaments without bothering about losing all my bank balance! It's an investment for my chess!
Success in chess comes when there is a great bonding between parents, student and coach. Dedication from all three sides is important. Choose the right coach, trust him and give him time, not time-pressure! Results will definitely flow one day! Perseverance is the keyword!
About the author:
Nisha started playing chess at the age of seven. She became India’s youngest WIM in 1995 and India’s fourth WGM in 2003. Since February 2011 she is a full IM – her highest ever Elo rating was 2416. Nisha has represented India in 25 countries. Her accomplishments include qualifying for the 2001 and 2008 Women World Chess Championships as well as playing for India in 2004, 2008 and 2010 (Women) Olympiads. She won the Indian National Women Premier title in 2005. Nisha's first love, chess, helps her continue her other passion: writing, photography and travelling. She also loves to learn foreign languages and has a diploma in Spanish, which she wants to master in future! She is employed with Oil India Limited (OIL), a petroleum company, as a sportsperson.
For all those who would like to hear more words of wisdom from Nisha, make sure that you have a look at the ChessBase DVD by her on "Strengthen your chess foundation" from the ChessBase India shop. If you would like to get a glimpse of how she teaches, here's a short video: